The Murder of Joshua Brown: Tragic Coincidence, or Something Bigger?

October 14, 2019

Joshua Brown was killed after testifying as a witness in Amber Guyger's trial. People asking questions about his death aren't conspiracy theorists--there's a long history shaping their suspicions.

Joshua Brown was killed after testifying as a witness in Amber Guyger's trial. People asking questions about his death aren't conspiracy theorists--there's a long history shaping their suspicions.


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Story Transcript

JOSHUA BROWN: No. I can’t say I seen him. I heard him in there.

SPEAKER: Okay. When you say you heard him, what do you mean?

JOSHUA BROWN: Heard him singing every morning.

SPEAKER: Okay. You heard him singing? what kind of things did you hear him sing?

JOSHUA BROWN: Gospel music. Drake.

SPEAKER: And your door is directly across the hall from where Mr. Jean’s apartment is, correct?

JOSHUA BROWN: Yes ma’am.

SPEAKER: And so on the morning, were you inside of your apartment when you heard Mr. Jean singing? Or outside of your apartment?

JOSHUA BROWN: I probably hear him… When I came out to lock my door, I hear him.

SPEAKER: So from in the hallway you can hear his activities inside his apartment? Yes? You have to say it out loud. I’m sorry.

JOSHUA BROWN: Yes ma’am.

SPEAKER: My I approach your honor?

JOSHUA BROWN: Yes.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network.

As the nation was still debating the public expressions of forgiveness by black people toward ex-cop and convicted murderer Amber Guyger, one of the witnesses against her, Joshua Brown, was murdered in Dallas just a few days after the trial. Dallas PD claim that Brown’s murder was the result of a drug deal gone wrong and there are three people in custody for the crime. But just as we wondered what the outpouring of forgiveness toward Guyger in that courtroom could mean for how we talk about racism in this country; in the case of Joshua Brown’s murder, is that an indication of something bigger than the tragic story that it’s being presented to us as?

Here to talk with me about this today is Glen Ford. Glen is the co-founder and executive editor of the Black Agenda Report and the author of The Big Lie, an analysis of U.S. media coverage of the Grenada invasion. Glen, thank you so much for joining me today.

GLEN FORD: Oh, thanks for having me.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So people were already discussing, Glen, at length the deeply problematic implications of the responses by several black people in that courtroom to Amber Guyger after the trial. And then just a few days later, one of the witnesses, Joshua Brown, is murdered. Now of course, these are incidents that stem from the same trial. But I have to ask you, do you see connections between the expectation of public performative forgiveness by black people toward white violence and the death of Joshua Brown?

GLEN FORD: Well, I think many of us built a whiplash when we saw the goings on in that courtroom. Initially with the verdict, there was deep satisfaction in the black community that a white police officer would be convicted of murder, even if it was an off duty white police officer in the killing of a black person. But then we saw a different story.

And I think it’s the unfolding saga of something like what we at Black Agenda Report call the black mis-leadership class, those black folks who seek not liberation, not even justice for black folks, but some kind of modus vivendi. A way of living with white power structures. That’s the way many of us interpreted the black judges hugging of the person she had just presided over a trial that convicted that person of murder of a black person. And also, hugging of that same defendant by the victim’s brother.That was a shock to us.

We saw a black police spokesman give the notification of the police’s version of how Joshua Brown was killed. And I don’t think it was my imagination or the imagination of others who I spoke with who viewed that television presentation that this black police spokesman seemed to be saying very pointedly how one, two, and then the third suspect in the killing of Joshua Brown where black males, black males, black males as if the police was saying, “See. We didn’t do it. It was a black male that did it.” And this was a black male police officer taking that kind of attitude. It was quite obvious. So yeah, this case has been a whiplash and it has many levels of interpretation.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And I’m glad you brought up that press conference by the Dallas PD. Because there are already serious questions about the events surrounding Joshua Brown’s death. The Dallas PD issued a statement naming these three people who were in custody saying that this was all the result of a drug deal that they had with Joshua Brown that went wrong.

Now there are details of this story. The fact that the men allegedly drove from over 300 miles away to buy marijuana and THC capsules from Brown, that Brown allegedly shot first, and that he was shot in return, and he died as a result of his wounds. But the key thing, I think, in this discussion is that people immediately took to social media and challenged the Dallas PD–directly on their Twitter feed, actually–on this story. Glen, are people’s suspicions of some type of police malfeasance in this case valid? And if they are, why?

GLEN FORD: Well, they’re justified by history. Any black person that is not suspicious of a police story is in a sense out of their mind. But the particulars of this case are quite suspicious. Common sense says, why would people drive up 300 miles for a dope connection? Certainly Joshua Brown was not the cartel. And then guns start blazing almost immediately. That just doesn’t seem like a good day’s work for anybody involved in just small time druggery.

But of course we’re looking at a police force that despite having a black police chief–a city despite having a black mayor–is known for brutality. But that doesn’t make it stand out. All of these police forces are known for their brutality against black folks. We understand that the criminal justice system in the United States was shaped around the objective of containing and controlling black people. And most white folks who are in jail can consider themselves collateral damage of a racist system.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Now in fact, if we look at the issue of black people who stand up for themselves against police brutality specifically, we do see a disturbing pattern emerging, don’t we? Because we can most recently site the mysterious deaths of at least six activists who were involved in the protest in Ferguson, Missouri after the murder of Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Now in this case, the DOJ report that investigated that department found a widespread pattern and practice of racist targeting of black people in every level of the Ferguson “justice system.”

And even in this case, not as many people are aware of the issue of Ronnie Babbs better known as Bunny, whose cell phone video captured the aftermath of Botham Jean’s murder, who says she was fired from her job after people called her employer, accusing her of being a radical anti-police black extremist. And she’s also received and continues to receive death threats. Glen, are the Ferguson deaths and what is happening to Ronnie Babbs the only examples of this kind of unexplained calamity befalling activists who challenge police authority?

GLEN FORD: No. And in fact I’m of advanced age and there has always been rumors and suspicions of police conspiracies in the depths of activists who went to soon. Certainly in Ferguson, those beliefs are rife. And I want to mention that in addition to suspicion of the police, a well-deserved suspicion, Ferguson, St. Louis itself is surrounded by predominantly white counties that are full of very active racist organizations. Militias abound in the state of Missouri. And it is well known that police in Missouri are close to those militias. Not only tolerate those militias but seem to have political sympathies with them. So who the perpetrators are is a bigger question than just the police.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So I want to take another step back a little bit farther and look at this issue from an even wider perspective of not just local police departments. But black activists have recently been named as “black identity extremists” by the FBI–the Federal Bureau of Investigation–and designated a threat more dangerous than even white supremacists. Now, even though the actual murders committed by white supremacists recently has forced the U.S. domestic intelligence apparatus to slightly shift their stance on who’s more of a threat, the fear of surveillance, infiltration, and retaliation among black activists today is very real. But Glen, this is also not a new concern among black activists, is it?

GLEN FORD: Well, the FBI knows a great deal about white extremists. It has always used them for its own purposes. The FBI claims that it uses white extremists, Ku Klux Klan, and militia folks in order to spy on those organizations. But that’s clearly not the case because we don’t see expensive arrests of those people. So their spies must be lying to them. A significant proportion of the bank robberies in this country over decades have been committed by these white extremist groups that periodically raid the banks in order to buy weapons, and ammunition, and keep their underground activities going. So these are major operations. Much of them above ground and totally visible.

But the FBI downplays them, puts them on a low priority. It reminds me of how J. Edgar Hoover, until deep into the 60s and close to his own death pretended that there was no mafia. There was no organized crime. And the FBI continues that legacy by low rating the existence of white extremist organizations whose members or sympathizers have now begun engaging in periodic mass shootings. And yet their priority is us, black folks, not “black Identity extremists”… I don’t even know what that is. But we can talk about the FBI’s definition. But black people and animal rights activists, people who almost never kill anybody.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Now you brought up what the FBI’s definition of a “black identity extremist” is. What is that? And why is that important?

GLEN FORD: Yeah. I’ll read the definition to you. It seems rather tame, but actually it’s quite insidious. They call “black Identity extremists” those who use force or violence in violation of criminal law in response to perceived racism and injustice in American society. And they believe that the motives of these “black Identity extremists” involve their desire to establish, and this is the really important part, to establish a separate black homeland or autonomous black social institutions, communities or governing organizations inside this country.

Well established, single, autonomous, black social institutions, communities or governing organizations within the United States encompasses everybody who supports community control of the police, and community control of the schools, and any kind of social organization, black only organization in the United States. They could indict the NAACP, that kind of profile. What they have done is profile all black political activity. They have made black politics an outlaw occupation. That’s the danger in this kind of language. But of course that’s what cops of all varieties do. They profile and we’re at the top of the profile menu, attach a crime to what you have already, the people that you’ve already profiled.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Now bringing it back to the tragic murder of Joshua Brown. Let’s say that the three people in custody confirm Dallas PD story. And they all admit to the claims. Is there still reason to be wary that all is not what it seems in this case?

GLEN FORD: Well, we know how police manipulate people that they have arrested, have in their custody, and to state they have in their hands. We all have heard 100 stories of what police do. So once the cops have you any story that comes out of that is by definition suspect and for good historical reason.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Glenn Ford, I want to thank you so much for being with me today and discussing this issue and hopefully giving a clearer view of what may seem like a conspiratorial argument to some people. But is actually based on a very long history, a very long and troubled history with the intelligence and law enforcement apparatus in this country. Thank you so much.

GLEN FORD: Thank you.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And thank you for watching. This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network in Baltimore.